Relative Value: Sarfaraz K Irani, 28, and Bakhtyar K Irani, 31
Meet the two boys who gave Mumbai’s iconic dairy a steroid shot of success.
Brothers Bakhtyar, 31, and Sarfaraz K Irani, 28, can’t recall a single year at St Mary’s School in Mazagaon when their boisterous classmates didn’t remember their birthdays.
The Irani boys, who’d come loaded with milk drop toffees on the auspicious day, are fourth generation co-owners (from their mother Shernaz’s founding family) of Mumbai’s most iconic dairy, Parsi Dairy Farm. Set up in 1916 at the now famous Princess Street address by their maternal great grandfather Ardeshir Nariman, its 96-year-old legacy was one the boys hadn’t always hoped to adopt.
“I had just landed a degree in interior design from Pune,” says Sarfaraz, who decided to join Bakhtyar in the ailing family business in 2007. Bakhtyar himself seasawed between law and milk-mithai megabucks before joining in.
Parsi Dairy Farm, makers of the best kulfi in town – who can’t remember licking a malai lolly on the Rajdhani? – downed shutters in 2006, leaving 15,000 families, most of them Parsis, wondering how their morning cuppa would taste the same without milk from the family stables. Distribution issues and a labour union that declared a strike over unpaid dues spelt trouble for the loyal customers. And the Iranis knew that.
Because, approximately a year later, all the owners – spanning three generations and grand relations, aunts and uncles – reached a settlement with the workforce. And Parsi Dairy Farm re-opened. “Clearly, change was in the air, and everyone had a role to play,” says Bakhtyar, throwing Sarfaraz a sidesmile.
Setting aside their collective early vision of sitting at the gulla (cash counter) with countless cousins – “about eight at last count, and that’s just from our generation,” says Sarfaraz – and playing cross and knots with the managers, the boys turned to men, turning their eye on marketing, advertising, packaging and new product creation.
Their idea was simple: think outside the milk can, and create more milk-based products. “Because the milk delivery business was a 24/7 job that demanded that the milk be collected, pasteurised, packaged and delivered in record time, it had too many risks to consider,” says Bakhtyar, referring to quality control and escalating prices. And so, while you still get to buy their signature, soft and airy sutterfeni, Amdabadi halwa and full-fat milk, the counters are also stacked with low-fat milk, paneer, dahi and a just-launched bevy of Bengali sweets, all served by half the original cobalt blue-uniformed staff. With streamlined distribution offering dairy products at the Princess Street headquarters and a few franchises, and the peripheral range (kulfi, ghee, paneer) stocked at big-ticket supermarket chains, they are no longer solely dependent on labour.
The brothers are frank to admit they aren’t kitchen-experts. “We may not be familiar with the actual manufacture of our products, but that doesn’t mean I don’t stow away a file labelled ‘Just in Case’ in my drawer,” laughs Bakhtyar. It was cousins Parwana Mistry and Zenia Patel, who he says, pitched in with ideas that now characterise the brighter red-and-blue packaging and fresh recipes.
So, what does the centenary year in 2016 spell for them? “The shift has been good, and we are in the process of experimenting with a line of farsan and diabetic food,” says Bakhtyar, who is keen to control the existing range, and crash down to reality before growing any more, because, “Impossible is nothing.”
Sarfaraz smartly wraps it up with a nugget of advice, “Just don’t count the calories when you come visiting us.”
If only all success stories smelt this good.